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Dunn County can ‘Ping’ in case of emergency

Dunn County has enrolled in a location-based emergency alert system.

Ping4, an application available free for smartphones, alerts users in a given area of an emergency, like a tornado. The app allows an official to shoot out an alert to an area as small as one street, or to the whole county. And with the oilfield population in Dunn County, alerts based on location, not address, may be more sensible.

“The biggest reason is that … you don’t have to live within the county to be able to utilize the system,” Dunn County Emergency Manager Denise Brew said of why she chose Ping4.

With oilfield workers constantly coming in and out of the county, and worker crew camps popping up sporadically, few of the newest residents have a landline or are registered with the county.

“That’s the biggest reason I got it — I can reach people that don’t live here,” Brew said. “The other one that we have is Everbridge. That’s reverse 911, but that’s landline or you register your number.”

She said Monday’s tornado warnings came through Ping4 from the National Weather Service.

“It’s just one more extra way for me to try to notify people,” Brew said.

McKenzie County Emergency Manager Karolin Rockvoy said county officials are also looking at the best emergency notification system for a similarly transient population.

“We have so many people here from so many different area codes, and landlines are so limited anymore, that we really need to get a handle on where we can call everybody,” she said.

Ping4 allows authorities to pinpoint a certain location on a map — for example, a Walmart store — and notify every cellphone within that location.

A tornado that touched down in Watford City in May caused officials to rethink emergency response with western North Dakota’s new population of oilfield workers.

Rockvoy said it made McKenzie County start talking about a new alert system.

“McKenzie County being the largest county, I don’t know how many sirens we would have to buy to be complete with all the people here,” she said.

North Dakota Department of Emergency Services spokeswoman Cecily Fong said Ping4 is one form of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, or IPAWS.

“They can use CodeRED, they can use CityWatch, they can use any number of different kinds of products but they all do essentially the same thing,” she said.

Adams, Billings, Burke and Kidder counties also use Ping4, according to Fong.

Dunn County commissioners voted to support the county deploying Ping. It’s projected to cost about $81 a year, Brew said.

The state of North Dakota also has Ping4 for large-scale disaster situations like the Minot floods or the Casselton train derailment, Brew said.

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